When I first became interested in smartphones, I would spend a lot of time imagining all of the things they would accomplish one day. Smartphone technology was advancing at a rapid rate, and with each passing year some new feature or app would pop up that would just blow my mind. One of the features that impressed me the most was the ability to pay for things with my phone via NFC through Google Wallet (RIP).
The feature first came about in 2011, and I first learned about it while working at Sprint when we were upgrading our credit card readers. A little sticker in the corner said it supported NFC payments. It didn’t actually, but apparently it would Soon™. I wasn’t around long enough to see it happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they still don’t support modern mobile payments. It's been my experience that retailers are slow to adopt the idea, but it doesn't help that individual retailers are keen on making individual mobile payment options of their own.
Take the most recent addition, Target Pay, for instance. Like Walmart Pay, which is Walmart’s exclusive mobile payment app, it works differently than Android, Apple, or Samsung Pay, all of which involve using NFC to complete the transaction. Walmart and Target Pay, on the other hand, involve a cashier scanning a QR code on a person’s phone to complete the transaction, and there aren't other alternatives to fall back on. If you want to pay with your smartphone at either of those locations, you must use their respective app.
And I suppose that’s where my problem with mobile pay starts. I shop at both Walmart and Target, among many other retailers, and all of them have different rules and regulations regarding what’s accepted and what isn’t. A couple of grocery chains near me have yet to even activate the chip readers that are available in their checkout lanes, so I’m genuinely surprised when any of them have support for one or more mobile payment options. It doesn’t matter to me either way; I still don’t use digital wallets on a regular basis. The only time I did was when I owned a Samsung device, which I’ll admit is likely the most versatile to use as it utilizes MST (magnetic secure transmission) as well as NFC.
But as an iPhone user once again, I’m back to carrying cards with me everywhere. I’ve only ever added a couple of cards to my Apple Wallet for those “just in case” moments, but even then, the stars would have to be perfectly aligned to make it so that the cards in my Apple Wallet could actually save me from any potentially embarrassing situation where I’ve accidentally left my wallet at home.
I sometimes wonder if mobile payments will ever take off. It’s been six years since it was introduced, and it’s always been a fragmented feature. Retailers adding their own “special” brand of mobile payments only adds to the fragmentation, and overall it just seems more convenient to use cards that I know will work in the first place. Even Samsung Pay’s versatility between MST and NFC can be challenging as you try to explain to the cashier telling you “That won’t work,” that ACKCHYUALLY, yes it will. And now you feel bad because you’re afraid you’ve created conflict out of an otherwise painless transaction.
Not using a mobile wallet ultimately means yeah, I have to carry one more thing with me, but at this point it’s more convenient to do that than trying to figure out which retailers take what type of mobile payments, and whether I have that type of mobile payment option or not. It’s just messy.
Readers, what are your experiences with mobile payments these days? Are you able to use it more often than not, or do you ignore the feature in favor of physical cards?